AWS Hosts Foundation Studies

Exploring color

Foundation Studies color exploration


Handwork experience led by Diane — felting

Black and White

Studies in light and dark with charcoal



Class with Nathaniel

Nathaniel Williams from the Center for Anthroposophy leads morning study.


Variations on color

From Our Craft Table: Paper Lanterns

Here is a set of instructions that children or adults can use to make a lovely paper lantern, whether you are celebrating Martinmas, going on a lantern walk, or just brightening up your home.  A printable copy of the directions is available at the bottom of the page.

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 Printable lantern instructions

Community Enrichment Classes & Events

Feeling crafty? Interested in enriching your parenting skills? How about getting guidance on building social resilience in your child? AWS  offers many adult opportunities to learn and grow. We hope you can join us for one or more of these events. Register with Mira by calling the office at 333-9062. Payment will hold your spot.


“Building Social Resilience in your Child” with Molly McCarthy Wednesday November 5, 6:30-8pm in the Hall. Suggested donation is $10

An overview of parenting gems gained from training with Kim John Payne, author of “Simplicity Parenting” and founder of Social Inclusion.

Molly  McCarthy is a former AWS parent of two children currently in high school. While at AWS, she participated in the Social Inclusion training with Kim John Payne and was a founding member of the Social Health Coordinating Group.  In addition, Molly is trained in  Collaborative Counseling, and is both a certified Simplicity Parenting Group Leader and Coach. She holds an M.S.  in Counseling Psychology from Alaska Pacific University.Community_Enrichment_Flyer_11-5



“Storytelling” with AWS class teacher Brandy Steinhilber Wednesday December 3, 6:30-8pm in the Hall. Suggested donation is $10.

Join us for an exploration into the delightful and meaningful world of storytelling. You will leave this talk with many tips for effective storytelling, and be inspired to learn a story to tell.


“Happy Hands: Nuno Felting Workshop” with  Linda Shepherd, Amy Meissner  and others Saturday December 13  10am-2pm, in the Hall. Cost is $25 (includes materials). Limited to 10 people. Bring a potluck lunch item to share.

Learn the exotic and beautiful art of felting with wool and silk and the AWS Craft Guild. Create a beautiful nuno felted scarf to give to that special person.


Conflict Resolution for Young Children: A Workshop for Parents and Educators” with Vanessa Kohlhaas, Wednesday, January 28, 6:30-8pm in the Hall. Cost is $10

It can be difficult for parents to know what to do when their child has a conflict, whether with them, another adult or other children. Conflict situations can happen suddenly, and don’t usually allow time to prepare a response. While we want our children to be happy, conflict is a normal and necessary part of child development. Such moments and situations allow the child to explore the needs and expectations of others in relationship to his or her own experiences and desires. How can we best support our children during these moments? How can we facilitate the child’s self-expression while still respecting others? What is the adult’s role during times of such conflict? This workshop will explore these and other questions, and offer practical guidelines for helping parents and teachers.

Vanessa Kohlhaas has worked as an early childhood educator for the past fifteen years. She has a Master’s in Education, as well as certifications as a public school special  education teacher and Waldorf early childhood teacher. In addition to these trainings,  she studied at the Pikler Institute in Budapest, Hungary and Resources for Infant Educarers (RIE) in Los Angeles, CA.  She currently works as an early childhood teacher at the Whidbey Island Waldorf School in Washington State. She is visiting AWS with WECAN (Waldorf Early Childhood Association of  North America)



From Our Kitchen: Chocolate Zucchini Cupcakes

Enjoy these Michaelmas harvest treats from AWS grandparent Beth Cole:

2 cups shredded zucchini
1/2 cup softened butter
1 3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup cooking oil
2 eggs
1/2 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2 cups plain flour
4 Tablespoons cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves (optional)
1 6-oz. package chocolate chips (you may want to use miniature chocolate chips if you are making miniature cup cakes.)

Cream butter, sugar, oil. eggs, sour cream, and vanilla in large bowl. Stir in remaining ingredients, except zucchini and chocolate chips. Fold in zucchini.

Place cup cake liners in muffin pans; (miniature muffin pans were used for Michaelmas lunch). Spoon batter into muffin pans, about 1/2 full. Sprinkle chocolate chips on batter in pans. Bake at 325 degrees until done.

(If you prefer, you may bake the cake batter in a 9 x 13″ pan, two 9″ pans, or loaf pans.)

Annual Giving Goal Met!

In late June we received a generous matching challenge grant of $10,000. Within one week, every dollar was matched, eclipsing our goal of $45,000 for our Annual Giving campaign. We received gifts from far and wide, including many AWS former teachers and alumni families. Thank you! We could not have done it without you.

Second Autumn Parent+Child Session begins November 6

Our second session of autumn Parent+Child class begins on Thursday, November 6 on the AWS campus.  This class is for a parent or caregiver and their birth to age 3 1/2 year old child (expectant parents are welcome too).

We invite you to slow down, turn off your cell phones, and enjoy your parenting journey with us. Led by a trained and experienced Waldorf  early childhood teacher, this is an opportunity to savor what Waldorf education has to offer to the very youngest child. You will meet once a week for two hours over several weeks to establish a gentle rhythm including  songs, finger plays, stories, seasonal crafts, outdoor play in our child-friendly play yard, and a simple healthful snack together. Articles to support your conscious parenting, craft materials and snack are all included in the fee. We hope you will join us!

Session I: Thursday September 11-Thursday October 30, 2014  (8 weeks for $300)

Session II: Thursday November 6-Thursday December 18, 2014 (6 weeks for $250)

Call us to enroll at 333-9062. Classes are limited to 7 parent+child pairs per session.

Parent+Child Fall 2014 application


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AWS Adopts New Governance Model

The Board of Trustees at Anchorage Waldorf School has adopted an executive director model of administration and appointed current Interim Administrator, Jeanne Larsen, to serve in this role.  A committee of board and faculty representatives is currently working to build a detailed job description for this position based on our current structure, needs, and strengths along with a review of models for this role at other schools across the country. At the end of the 2014-15 year we will evaluate how the executive director model has worked for our school and assess the outcomes to make the decision whether or not to continue with this structure long-term.

Following several strategic planning sessions led by AWS alumni parent and Professional Growth Systems partner Doug Johnson this spring, members of the AWS community opted to pursue a change in governance structure to address the current needs of the school and to strengthen operations.  There was strong agreement that an executive director model would allow for more focused and clear systems of communication, accountability and resource management.

The board asked Jeanne Larsen to step into the role of Executive Director following a full evaluation led by the board’s executive committee this spring.  Jeanne is a strong candidate to move the school forward; she has a deep love for our school and is in a unique position to help us figure out what this position should and could be as we move forward.  We are fortunate to have a leader with her commitment, experience and skill set at the helm.


AWS Alumni : Myth Busters + Advice

Here are Waldorf Myth Busters + Advice that a parent gathered from the outstanding AWS Life After AWS Alumni Student/Parent Panel on May 20.
“Waldorf students leave 8th grade unprepared for high school math.”
Wrong.  In fact, many AWS grads think they can do math so well that they skip Algebra 1 and go straight into Geometry. Yikes! Here’s where it can get challenging (unless you’ve taken Algebra 1 in summer school beforehand like one student did), but because they LOVE LEARNING, they figure it out and get the extra help they need. So really, we’re sending children out into the world who are confident and willing to take challenges.
Also, in Isabeau Barnes’ high school algebra class this year, she is one of three students who don’t have to take the final because they have an “A” already.  The other 2 students are fellow AWS graduates.
Mike Price, an alumni parent, mentioned that his daughter Anna did struggle with math in high school. She seems to have gotten over it however since she is currently a Math and Physics major in University.
“Waldorf students have a hard time with the social transition into a large high school.”
Wrong.  Many students cited their ability to MAKE FRIENDS MORE EASILY because they’d been in smaller classes their whole lives and had been forced to not only deal with many personalities in an intimate setting for years, but also to maintain these friendships day in and day out.  Can’t just ignore someone you’re annoyed with for the rest of the semester at AWS, right?
Many students cited how their involvement in cross country running and cross country skiing gave them an instant community.
One student did know her limitations in a crowd, and the desire to be in a smaller school lead her to Polaris for high school. Here again, we’ve sent a child out into the world who knows who she is and what she wants. She is the editor of their school newspaper.  Did I mention that she WROTE A NOVEL for her 8th grade project?
“If a Waldorf class doesn’t have the same teacher for 8 years, something is wrong.”
Wrong.  While this is the ideal, most of these students had 2 or more teachers for their experience at AWS.
“Waldorf graduates are totally unprepared and naive to the seedier aspects of high school like teenage sex and drug use.”
Correct. But would you want this any other way?
So, what can we do as AWS parents to prepare our children for high school? A couple of things stood out:
1.) Enroll them in an online typing course.
2.) Teach them to use a combination lock and explain the concept of having to lock up their things.
3.) Go to the library and do a quick overview on the concept of a “text book.”
4.) Teach them how to do proper research online.
5.) M-a-a-a-y-be have a brief sex and drugs talk.
Enough said. Many thanks to those who attended our panel and asked (and answered) such outstanding questions.  It was just the spark and renewal that I needed. These are phenomenal people we are preparing for the world and we should be very proud of our school in its ability to do so.



Tuesday May 20, 6:30-8pm in the Hall at Anchorage Waldorf School. Come and meet some of our alumni, an alumni parent, and high school teachers who appreciate the qualities our students bring to high school. Find out who they are, and what they do after they graduate from AWS.


Myth Busting: How Reading is Taught in a Waldorf School

Sarah Baldwin is the creator of the Moon Child blog and a huge proponent of the Waldorf approach to learning. We’re happy to share her blog post “Myth Busting: How Reading is Taught in a Waldorf School.”

Please share in your social media circles and help spread the word!

And check out our video on reading with our very own fourth grade teacher Kathleen Smith!

Reflections on Anchorage Waldorf School’s Twenty Years: an Interview with School Founder Mary Lee Plumb-Mentjes

Interview by Annette Marley

As Anchorage Waldorf School enters its 21st year, it seemed most appropriate to visit the school’s well-known founder, Mary Lee Plumb-Mentjes, to hear her reflections on the history of our school and her recommendations for developing it. Mary Lee is regarded by many as being among the most influential in our school’s history and over the years many have turned to her for her advice on various critical matters during the life of the school. As things have unfolded for Mary Lee recently, she has retired from her job in Anchorage and plans to move out of state to Austin, Texas. I felt lucky to have a few hours of her time as she packed up her house and tied up loose ends with her life in Anchorage.

It’s hard to keep track of Mary Lee’s multiple educational degrees.  There are four in all, a BA in Psychology from Antioch College; a MA in Botany from University of Texas- Austin; a Ph.D. in Botany from University of Wisconsin Madison; and a MS in Animal and Range Science at New Mexico State University, all of which she deems to be “not that important” in the scheme of things. In addition, Mary Lee studied one year at Emerson College in England, a college based on anthroposophy: the educational, therapeutic, and creative system established by Rudolf Steiner. She worked as a social worker, then a plant ecologist, and has just recently retired from a career as an environmental regulator for the Army Corps of Engineers. These jobs would seem enough to count for one’s work in the world. However, as Mary Lee tells of her nearly life-long engagement with Steiner’s ideas and specifically her twenty-two years of work to grow a Waldorf community in Anchorage, one realizes that she has pursued a parallel career in anthroposophy as well.

So what was the seed that first began germinating Mary Lee’s interest in Rudolf Steiner’s works? Soon after she enrolled at Antioch College, when she was eighteen years old, she took a co-op job at Camphill Village, a community for those with special needs in upstate New York that is based on Steiner’s ideas. She says she felt drawn to how it was an intentional community and has been connected to this approach ever since.  When Mary Lee first arrived in Alaska in 1987, she posted a newspaper ad offering a study group on the many offshoots of Steiner’s work. A year afterward, Ellen Ranlett called Mary Lee expressing interest and inviting her to a lecture at UAA by Joseph Chilton Pearce, an author of a number of books on childhood development invited to Anchorage by his friend, Diane Reisman. At the registration table, Diane had placed a sign-up sheet for those interested in Waldorf education.

The first glimmers of a Waldorf school in Anchorage could be found in a series of meetings in Diane Reisman’s living room. Mary Lee recalls the floor being filled by lots of mothers and very young children. She was the only one with any background in Steiner’s ideas. The group was slow to formulate ideas for a starting a school, but in the meanwhile developed a rich yearly calendar of seasonal festivals for the children, with many workshops on everything from doll-making, eurythmy and Werbeck singing, to Waldorf education, with invited speakers from outside. A Steiner study group started in 1988.

Jump forward to the next significant step in this fledgling period when Carol Nordeen of the well-known “Carol’s Cabin School” (then Carol Cloud) hosted a “play group” in her home and many early Waldorf group members had their children there. This metamorphosed into a child care business at Amazing Grace Lutheran Church taught by Carol and her colleague, Ann Bryson.  At this point, the Anchorage Waldorf Education Association (AWEA) incorporated and took responsibility for this class. A group started a first grade with six children; Roger Fusen was the teacher. For various reasons, Mary Lee recounts, this first grade was not sustainable.The group then moved to St. Mary’s Episcopal Church at Lake Otis and Tudor. There was a drive to try a first grade again, and this time they used a different approach with a “root group”, or parents who proactively dug in with a commitment to pay for a teacher’s year-longs alary. Bette Montgomery was that first grade teacher. This fledgling group was located in the basement of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church right next door to St. Mary’s own preschool class.  St. Mary’s didn’t allow the school to have a sign with the Waldorf name so recruitment was all word of mouth. Nonetheless, the spark was kindled and a flame of life began. This was a pivotal time in the life of the school, Mary-Lee explains, because parents moved from a stance of waiting to see what the school would provide them to together making the leap to a new level as a school.

From there the school grew grade by grade and moved to several other churches in the process. From St. Mary’s the school moved to the RLDS Church on Baxter. When more space was needed, they moved the upper grades to the Native Friends Church in Airport Heights and held a kindergarten at Emanuel Presbyterian. During these first years Mary-Lee worked as the administrator of the school outside the hours of her full-time job, mostly helping the school comply with government requirements, answering phone calls, and taking care of the bills. She describes the school at this stage of growth with the example of a time when families were holding a St. Martinmas celebration in the basement of St. Mary’s whilst a wedding was underway above them, “There was so much life force you could barely contain it, even if you closed the doors and pressed yourself against them it was as if it would burst out anyway.”

She explains that the school in those days had a rich festival life including a celebration of St.John, Michaelmas, Martinmas, and an advent garden. She says, “The school distinguished itself from the mainstream by making these festivals carry a deeper message, one of renewal.Often, there would be a group who would study the theme of these festivals for a time before the actual festival occurred. The school once tried to have an Easter Festival but it didn’t feel or look any different than any other Easter celebration so they dropped it.” Once the board took over the management of the school, Mary Lee says there was a shift among the leaders of the school from holding their own individual opinions to thinking and acting on behalf of the best interest of the school. At one point during these early years the families at the school had an open conversation about whether the school should be just a Waldorf methods school or whether it should become an authentic Waldorf school; they made a conscious decision to become a real Waldorf school. Mary Lee reminisces, “The school was an organism, and it grew and got bigger and was very alive. I liked coming in the evenings and on the weekends to clean the school or iron the silks in the kindergarten in order to pause and experience the being of the school.”

Mary Lee’s wisdom of growing a Waldorf school comes from not only nurturing Anchorage Waldorf School but also from having worked for four years with a community that eventually started a Waldorf school in New Orleans. The beginnings in New Orleans were similar for several years—first a Steiner study group formed and then a Waldorf group actively created a festival life for children and sponsored workshops.  With reference to our school’s heart and soul, Mary Lee says, “People would ask me, ‘Do you expect everyone to be an anthroposophist?’ and I would answer, ‘No. But just Waldorf methods? No.’ What distinguishes us as an independent school is our freedom to do things differently than the mainstream. We don’t do things by cookbook. We need to develop ourselves for every new moment and every child. What worked back at the beginnings of ourschool may not be the right answer for now. That said, it is important for those at our school to have an inner life as the foundation of the school. The teachers especially need to have a connection to anthroposophy. They meditate on their children before they go to sleep at night.  They need access to their higher ego. Steiner is hard to access sometimes.  Even I have read certain texts of his and found them difficult and even disagreed with him, and then I would read it again, maybe several times and sleep in between. After this, often it would start to make sense to me in a way I never would have imagined. For those who find Steiner too dense,I suggest reading a contemporary, like Torin Finser.”

Among Mary Lee’s various roles as administrator, mentor, donor, and as a tuition assistance committee member, she has also led many Steiner study groups and the occasional contemplative group for those interested in taking on a question related to the school’s benefit; an example being when one group took on the question of whether to move the school to a new location.  Mary Lee accepts Winterberry Charter School for what it is. Although it is not perfect, she says,it offers many children a better education than the standard public school system. Currently,Mary Lee and other people from both Anchorage Waldorf School and Winterberry are working on a high school initiative. At first, Mary Lee was in favor of extending Winterberry’s existing charter to include a high school, but upon reflection decided that an independent Waldorf high school is what is needed in Anchorage.

In a parting letter to the Board following Meg Gorman’s recent talks about a Waldorf high-school initiative, Mary-Lee eloquently lays out our school’s assets as an independent Waldorfschool in contrast to a publicly funded school under government control.
“My concern harkens back to the different basic images of the human being we each hold:in his (Dr. Jim Browder, the recently resigned superintendent of Anchorage School District) instance to a child that comes as a blank sheet to be written on by whatever is deemed the correct curriculum by the State, filled up like an empty vessel, or that we recognize the child as coming to us as a real individual person with a destiny that the unfolding of which we are trying to support. It is understandable to want each young person to be able to find a job when they graduate, but we want each young person to be able to follow their own particular star, to be able to bring their gifts to fruition that our world needs, perhaps something that has never been seen before, new answers, new ideas, not to serve government/industry needs that exist now or 20 years ago. Anyone conversant with any area of science knows that the textbook explanations given in textbooks of even just ten years ago are outdated; memorizing those will not serve the needs of the future, likely not even the present. We need young people who are able to observe phenomena accurately, analyze what is there, and imagine what might be and exercise good judgment that includes concern for nature and humanity. “

With regard to Mary Lee’s parting recommendations for the school, she says, “I am excited about the current board. There is an openness to listen. Keeping five main lesson teachers rather than four was an example of that. It felt like real listening was happening.” She believes time should be found for a retreat for the board, faculty, and possibly the marketing committee. She believes new ways need to be created for parents to have more input in school decisions. She would like to see more substantive information disseminated to the community regarding new initiatives and different points of view regarding issues. She affirms that teachers can feel overworked and overwhelmed with all their responsibilities and that it would be wise to develop a trusted group of parents who are not board members or administrators to take on some important work. She eschews those who have come to her as if she is “holy” and says, “anyone can do this (develop an inner life and an anthroposophical foundation) if they are a human being”. She adds that she hopes that Steiner study sessions continue with reading anthroposophical texts, and that contemplative groups occasionally ponder big questions facing the school, like, “What is that keeps our school from increasing enrollment beyond 100 students?”
Mary Lee recommends a “care group” be formed that dedicates itself to figuring out what a person or family who is facing a struggle needs at the time and to coordinate that care.  With regard to the school’s financial status, she recommends people read the book, Money Can Heal by Siegrid Finser , and in concert with the development of a Waldorf high school in Anchorage, she believes that our school needs to “fill the bus”, or boost our enrollment, by making tuition more easily affordable for any committed family.

At this major transition in Mary Lee’s life, she is now in England partaking in a ten week course at Emerson College. It is called “It’s My Life” and involves Werbeck singing, eurythmy,and Bothmer gymnastics—all arts based on the work of Rudolf Steiner. At the time of our interview, she was eagerly anticipating this opportunity. “You wouldn’t believe how many dollheads I have collected. I coordinated so many doll-making workshops over the years but was so busy making sure everything went smoothly for all the participants that I never got past making the doll’s head. Now I’m going to make some time for me.”

When I asked Mary Lee who would take her place as a source of anthroposophical wisdom in our community, she referred to those who have attended the Steiner study group she has led but no one person in particular. To the relief of many, she does say she will be back to visit Anchorage regularly, as early as this next fall. As we parted ways in the parking lot at Café del Mundo, she reminded me of the importance of “asking the question” as found in the story of Parsifal and when I told her I wasn’t sure how I was going to write up this interview, she advised me to ”sleep on it”. I, as I know many, feel so grateful for all that Mary Lee has offered our school all the years before my own children enrolled and up until the present, and find myself admiring her as she enters her own era of renewal.